Ford Performance NASCAR: Mark Rushbrook Michigan Media Availability

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)
Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, was part of this week’s Zoom call, where he talked about Ford trying to extend its Michigan International Speedway win streak to five in the NASCAR Cup Series. He also spoke about a variety of issues

MARK RUSHBROOK, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports — FORD GOES INTO MIS WITH FOUR STRAIGHT WINS AT THE TRACK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH THIS BEING A DOUBLEHEADER WEEKEND? “It’s been a fantastic season so far with everything that we’ve seen, especially with COVID and everything that’s going on in the world – to have NASCAR back racing and for them doing it the right way with keeping everybody safe – we’re really proud of them and their leadership and what they’re doing for the sport. Michigan for us is a very special track. I’m 20 miles from the track right now sitting here in my house. It is our home track. It’s unfortunate we can’t have fans there for the race this weekend, but really looking forward to having our cars on track here again, especially with a doubleheader. I think those have been successful what we’ve seen so far and looking for another successful doubleheader this weekend. We’ve been strong here the last several races – the last four races with wins – and hoping to continue the momentum that we’ve seen so far this season. We’ve got a lot of strong cars and looking forward to two good races this weekend.”


American Muscle

THE 95 TEAM WAS SOLD TODAY. HOW DO YOUR FORD OWNERS FEEL ABOUT THEIR ECONOMIC VIABILITY AT THE MOMENT? “Bob Leavine and Leavine Family Racing used to race a Ford when I started in this job in 2014, so I remember Bob and certainly enjoyed working with him when he was in a Ford and certainly enjoyed competing against him. It’s hard to see him making a decision like that because I know how much he loved it, so I’m sure that was really, really hard for him to make that decision, but with the economy like it is I can certainly understand why he might be in that situation. I think that NASCAR for all the teams has been trying to soften the economic blow from the COVID situation and they were very quick to start that with an efficiency group that started as soon as the COVID break started, trying to figure out how do we get back racing safely and how do we take care of the teams and their finances in the right way. We’ve seen some of that in the rules changes or competition as we go back to the track and certainly the no practice, no qualifying is part of keeping people safe, but it’s also part of reducing the spend in the sport. If you don’t have to run the miles in practice or qualifying for run the risk of crashing a car in practice and qualifying you don’t need a backup car at the track. So there certainly has been some really good moves, I will say by NASCAR, but with NASCAR and the stakeholders – the teams, the engine builders, the OEMS – everybody was involved in those efficiency groups to try to get those cost reductions knowing the situation that we’re in for this year, potentially flowing into next year and longer term we certainly have the NextGen car coming in 2022 that is not only a fantastic car, but the operational costs of that are lower, so I think NASCAR is taking some short-term improvements in 2020, looking to carry those over to 2021 and then ever more coming in ’22 with a new car. So everybody is feeling it at some level. From talking to our teams they have certainly felt it, but they’re focused on being efficient and still being competitive and winning races and that’s what we’ve seen so far and hope for that to continue.”

YOU MAY WANT TO PUSH THIS QUESTION OFF TO EDSEL, BUT HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CONVERSATIONS ON WHETHER KYLE LARSON COULD END UP IN A FORD NEXT YEAR? HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANY OF THE HIGHER UPS ON IF THERE WOULD BE ANY WILLINGNESS TO HAVE HIM IN A FORD? “Like you said, I’ll pass this one off to Edsel. I wish he was here to do that. No, we’re in the midst of silly season and what I can say is we’re looking at all of our options. A lot of our seats have long-term contracts and are solid. You saw the extension announced yesterday for Brad. We certainly have some seats in play, so looking to see what the best options are. We’re here to win races in the right way. We want to be competitive on track. We want to have our innovation and tech transfer and we want the marketing out of it, so looking to see what we can do with any open seats for next year to fill them with the best driver.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE A PROGRAM LIKE TEAM PENSKE WHERE THE DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS HAVE BUILT SUCH CONSISTENCY? “We’ve got a lot of great teams and a lot of strength for sure with Roush Fenway, Penske, Wood Brothers, Stewart-Haas, Front Row and Go FAS, so it’s really good to see the depth that we have when you look at the finishing standings at New Hampshire and most of the races this year. We’ve had a lot of fast cars. Penske, in particular, they made the changes with their crew chiefs in the middle of the offseason and with really good logic on why they were doing that. I think we’re certainly seeing that play out on track now with those three Penske cars getting wins, being strong almost every single week and the drivers have connected with their crew chiefs and team support really well and adapted to that. So, I’m looking forward to that continued performance.”

ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF MIDWEEK RACES AND WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THEM CONTINUE GOING FORWARD? “We were definitely in support of the idea as it was talked about for the last couple of years, so even pre-COVID we thought there was definitely some merit to trying the midweek races to see how well they work. The situation this year has certainly given the sport the opportunity to try them to be able to get all the races in that we need to this year to have a complete season. I think it’s maybe too early to say whether they should continue into the future. There’s some really good things about it, but we need to make sure once fans can come back to racing are they gonna be attending the midweek races and looking at the TV numbers – what makes sense longer term? We’re still very much open to it. We’re certainly learning a lot about what’s good about them, what are some of the risks associated with them this year, but looking forward to more discussions and more opportunities for that with the stakeholders in the sport.”

IN TERMS OF TV NUMBERS THEY WEREN’T AS HIGH AS MAYBE SOME PEOPLE THOUGHT. WE YOU MORE SURPRISED THERE WASN’T MORE INTEREST IN THE WEDNESDAY/THURSDAY NIGHT RACES? “Yeah, I was surprised and that’s part of what we’re trying to understand – is there something else going on that affected that or are they really representative of what we might see longer term or maybe if it gets into a regular cadence like Monday Night Football, Wednesday Night NASCAR, maybe there’s some benefit of that.”

CHASE BRISCOE IS UNDER CONTRACT TO FORD. WHERE ARE YOU IN DETERMINING HIS PLANS FOR 2021 AND COULD WE SEE HIM IN THE CUP SERIES? “Yeah, we’re definitely in the middle of that right now. Chase has been outstanding from the day that we signed him through to today and we expect it to continue. He’s performed at all levels and he’s grown and developed both as a driver inside the truck, inside the car in the different series and outside of the car as well. So he’s done everything we’ve asked and more and done it really, really well and look forward to his future and getting him into the right Cup car and the right situation. We even had him this last weekend back in an IMSA car, a Mustang GT4 at Road America. Hopefully, that gave him a little bit of seat time to help him in the XFINITY race going back there this weekend, so we’re really high on Chase and support his continued advancement.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE FOR FORD IN THE XFINITY SERIES BEING THERE ARE ONLY TWO CARS THIS YEAR? “We love the XFINITY Series and definitely enjoying this year. We’ve only got two cars, but they’re two really strong cars, strong teams, strong drivers and it’s great to see Austin and Chase racing against each other. We’ve brought them up together. They raced the IMSA GT4 cars together, trucks, and now XFINITY. In many ways they’re like teammates or brothers in how they’ve developed their relationship not just on the track but off the track as well. They’ve both been performing really well. We think the world of Austin Cindric, so it’s great to see them use the different series in NASCAR for that advancement. Specifically, our future plans for XFINITY, a lot of it certainly depends on what happens with Chase and Austin as drivers and where they end up next year, and then looking as we have our pipeline of development drivers, who do we continue bringing through and bringing up. Hailie Deegan was our most recent add, but she’s doing a great job in ARCA this year and we’re starting to talk about what is the right place for her next year – to step up to trucks or what makes the most sense. So, TBD I guess for our XFINITY program next year.”

OF ALL THE THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED WHAT HAS HIT YOU THE HARDEST THAT YOU’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH TO KEEP THINGS ROLLING IN OUR BUSINESS? “That’s a hard question to answer because the way the situation came upon us it was somewhat day by day. The world in the March timeframe was so different every new day when we woke up or even going through the day, but the sport in total has stayed together. It’s not surprising to me, but the sport is a very close-knit sport, a family in many ways, and it was ‘how do we get through this together as a sport?’ And the same for the Ford teams. How do we get through this and what do we do to ensure that we’re successful? That was a lot of the focus in that downtime was how are we gonna come back strong and competitive. We knew we’d be back racing, the sport would be back racing and we just wanted to make sure that we prepared for that. So, really, what we’ve been doing over the last five years with our programs has been advancing our analytical tools, whether it’s the simulation program or the simulator, the aero, computational fluid dynamics, all of the analytics. I don’t know how we could have done what we’re doing today or this season five years ago or 10 years ago. Yeah, we would have done it, but now with the advanced tools that we have, and to have 40 cars going off into turn one, lap one of the race at 200 miles an hour or 180 miles an hour with confidence that the car is gonna turn as you expect it to is really impressive — the level that this sport has risen to and the level of engineering and analysis that goes into it, so we’ve known that because we’ve been building it for many, many years, but it’s just great to be able to make that statement to the fans and even new fans coming to watch the sport.”

HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO FORD TO GET BRAD RE-SIGNED? “Ford Motor Company loves Brad Keselowski and he is an important part of this program. He is part of this family and he’s a proven champion and a multi-time race winner with his three wins this season and he just continues to demonstrate that he’s at the top of his game. He’s won at some very different tracks in very different ways, both with strategy and outright speed and dominance and performance, so we love having him part of this family and love seeing that contract signed to extend that into the future, and the same thing for Brad as I said about Chase Briscoe in how he’s developed off the track. I sent this to Brad, not only did he perform so well on the track on Sunday in Loudon, but he performed off the track. His post-race interview, he’s a great spokesperson inside of this sport and really proud to have him representing our company.”

DO YOU PUSH A SIGNING LIKE THAT OVER THE EDGE? WHAT ROLE DOES FORD PLAY IN A CONTRACT SITUATION? “We don’t necessarily push. We ultimately have some say in who is in the car given our contracts, but we let the teams go and work the deal at their pace to suit their situation.”

YOU DON’T PUSH UNTIL YOU NUDGE? “A gentle nudge.”

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF BEING IN THE XFINITY SERIES WITH THE SAME CAR YOU HAVE IN CUP WITH MUSTANG? COULD IT LEAD TO A CHANGE IN IDENTITY OF WHAT THE XFINITY SERIES BECOMES? “That’s something that we’re always talking about with the other OEMs and NASCAR in our OEM Council as we together share our views of what the different series should be. For us, the XFINITY Series is fantastic in terms of the racing that we see going on there and another place to tell our story as a company, but we’re also using it as a developmental series for not just drivers, but crew chiefs, over-the-wall pit crew and everything else in the sport – race engineers. So, it is important in the ladder within NASCAR for us.”

COULD IT BE VIEWED AS AN ELECTRIC CAR SERIES OR ANOTHER VISION TO HOW THE XFINITY SERIES CAN BE USED BETTER FOR THE OEMS? “We love today’s internal combustion engine that is in the Cup car and the XFINITY car, for sure. We do see the opportunity, primarily at the Cup level first, actually, to go to hybrid, which could include the same internal combustion engine – so the same great sound and feel and smell from the car – but with an electric motor to assist it and some regenerative capability in the car as well, so that you can recharge your battery and deploy the electrical energy at the driver’s discretion as part of the race strategy. So, we think hybrid for sure makes sense as, I think, the first step towards electrification in NASCAR, and that’s something that is protected in the NextGen car, so it could come some time very soon after the car’s introduction in 2022. Full electric, I think with the current NASCAR format, full electric is a long way away from having the capability to do those kind of races and not something that we’re pushing for right now. We think hybrid is the right technology to bring into the sport next.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO FORD THAT MICHIGAN RETAINS TWO DATES ON THE NASCAR SCHEDULE? “I don’t know that it’s important it come two weekends. We’re very much okay with a doubleheader like we’re seeing this weekend, and as much as we love racing in Michigan we do still want the best schedule in total for the series. If that means adding some new tracks into the schedule at the expense of some of the existing races or tracks, we’re certainly willing to be part of that discussion and have been part of that discussion to let NASCAR and the other stakeholders know what tracks, what markets are important to us, so something we’re open to, assuming we’re adding the right tracks.”

ARE YOU GOING TO ATTEND THIS WEEKEND AT MIS? “I haven’t decided if I’m going down there or not. Technically, we’re only allowed one engineer in the infield and I definitely want to honor that to keep the sport as safe as we can. Like I said, I’m only 20 miles away. I’d like to be down there to see the cars, hear the cars, smell the cars in person – feel them in person – but want to do the right thing for the sport.”

CAN YOU ADDRESS HOW NOT BEING ABLE TO ACTIVATE AT THE TRACK HAS COST YOU AS A COMPANY AND IS THERE A WAY TO COMPENSATE? “The biggest thing we lose, in addition to the race, which you can watch on TV or watch in person, what we lose is when people aren’t coming to the track we lose that ability to put our street cars on display for people to come and open the doors, close the doors, touch and feel the cars – to really see what we have available as our showroom lineup of vehicles and we lose the ability to capture their information so that we can follow up with them and hopefully sell cars. Then we lose that data that we track from the funnel as we talk about it from collecting information to going to a dealer to actually buying the car. So we lose that, but we’ve also got confidence that NASCAR fans are loyal fans. We talked earlier about racing the Mustang in Cup and XFINITY and while it’s important for us to tell the story about the Mustang on the track, we’re more telling the story about Ford on the track and we’re selling Ford F-150s to fans that come and watch Mustangs racing in the Cup level. So it’s more about the overall brand. It’s still important. We’re still making that connection. We’re still selling F-150s today or tomorrow because we’re racing in NASCAR, but it does hurt us a little bit to lose some of that direct data of connecting with the customers at the track, really showing them what our latest products are, especially as we have these new electrified products coming with the Mustang Mach-E or the Ford Bronco, so things that people haven’t seen in person before, we lose that opportunity for them to see it directly to either get their attention as to what the product is or to build even more excitement if they’re already familiar with what it is. So we’re looking forward to that opportunity to have fans in the stands. That’s exciting for sure, but to also be able to show them our products.”

HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THAT WE’LL BE CLOSER TO NORMAL IN 2021? “That’s way outside of NASCAR’s control or our control in terms of the vaccine and keeping people safe, so that’s what we’ve got to wait and see and hope. When is it safe to get people back to the track in the numbers that we used to see? We certainly want that, but we need the vaccine and everything else in place to be able to do that. I know NASCAR is planning for all scenarios for next year and, again, a lot of what we’ve learned as an industry this year can certainly be carried over into next year if we need to.”

IS BRISCOE UNDER CONTRACT? “We don’t talk details about the contract, but he does have a contract with Ford Motor Company, Ford Performance, and then separately signs a contract with the teams when it comes time to go racing. So his contract with us is still in place and we’re working with him and the team to find the right place for him.”


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